I often start my individual sessions and my group sessions with a little "educational" piece about this tiny little part of our brain called our Amygdala. Do you know what it is? Have you even ever heard of it? For those of you who have raised your hand, do you know what it does? When I ask that question in my office, I often get either a blank stare as a response or I get the "well, that sounds familiar...🤔".
So let's do a lesson on the Amazing Amygdala. The Amygdala are an "Almond-shaped group of neurons in the medial temporal lobes of the brain which plays a central role in the processing and memory or emotions, especially fear" (thank you Wikipedia). For our purposes this is where that whole "Fight or Flight" thing takes place. As I shared in a prior post, the Amygdala is like our smoke detector. It's job is to scan our environment and send a signal when it registers DANGER!
So what does this have to do with our Anxiety? I'm glad you asked 😉. So often I have folks in my office who will say to me "I want my anxiety to go away. I don't want to have Anxiety, I just want to be Normal". Wow! Can you hear the pain in those statements? Can you relate? There was a time when I had those exact thoughts. If we have an over sensitive Amygdala, it can be incredibly frustrating and we can find ourselves fighting back or resisting. Here's where it gets tricky. Our bodies are wired to keep us safe from danger. The amygdala does it's job and tells us when there is danger. For some of us it just "perceives" more danger than is "real".
The Amygdala were developed during a time when we lived to survive. Every day brought life or death situations. While we have evolved to a more fortunate time where most of us do not face true life or death situations on a daily basis, our Amygdala may not have gotten the memo!
So how do we send our Amydala that memo? That's where our thoughts get involved (this is the Cognition part of that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - CBT for short - that is recommended to treat anxiety). The Amygdala is doing it's job and sending the Fear Signal that triggers Fight or Flight (or Freeze for some of us) and it is up to us to say "Whoa there! I do not smell smoke, and I don't feel the heat from a fire, so False Alarm and let's reset the system!". You see, it's not what is actually happening in our lives that upsets us or makes us feel miserable, it is how we think about those things that puts us off balance.
P.S. - Has anyone ever told you to "just breathe" when you were panicking? Did you want to punch them in the face? I understand AND the reason breathing is important is that a really deep breath is the signal to the Amygdala that the threat has passed. Think about that....the reason for the deep breath is to turn the whole alert system off...just sayin' maybe you could experiment with that whole "take a breath" thing...
The voice behind Auntie Anxiety is Lynn Dutrow, Courage Coach and Counselor